It’s a provocative idea: What Canadian cities can learn from a drug dealer.
On the Your City My City blog, Rev. Jim Parker, who is minister at the Bethany Baptist Church in Toronto, recounts a story he heard often about a Boston preacher who went to a drug dealer for advice on appealing to youth.
“Sir,” he said, “I want to help the youth of this community, but nothing I do seems to attract any youth.”
“Yes,” the drug dealer replied.
“But I notice,” responded the preacher, “that your youth ministry is doing quite well.”
“Yes,” replied the drug dealer.
The preacher then asked his question: “What, may I ask, is your secret?”
“You really want to know?”
“I do,” the preacher nodded emphatically, “I really want to know what makes you so successful.”
“It’s simple,” declared the drug dealer sincerely, “I’m there … and you’re not. When Jamal comes home from school, I’m there and you’re not. When Susie wants excitement, I’m there and you’re not. When Mark wants a job, I’m there and you’re not.”
This is a true story from Eugene Rivers, who helped rid his Boston neighbourhood of gangs, said Parker. And it speaks volumes about what ordinary citizens and elected officials can do to make our city better.
While Parker had heard the drug dealer story many times, he didn’t know it involved Rivers until the minister visited Toronto in January 2006, invited by a local faith alliance after a previous summer of shocking gun violence.
“Politicians must find ways to get beyond the talk, and do things to really help communities,” Parker said in an interview. “Once you get your hands dirty, you go back into that leadership, decision-making role, but the decision-making that you do is affected by the real lives, the messy stuff you’ve been confronted with.”
And his pipe dream for Toronto is for everyone to take an active role in making the city better.
He speaks from his own personal experience, noting that he was the minister at his church for 10 years before he got involved in his community. He worked on his sermons, he helped his parishioners — he went to work and then went home.
Now he is chair of the local business improvement association, vice chair of a community police liaison committee and chair of East York Strategy, focused on helping local youth.
“Lots of people are going to do it in different ways, but if we can all get beyond our own little world — to help the communities in which we live, and by extension the city in which we live, we’ll all be better off,” Parker said.
“My vision is for the police, the businesses, the places of worship and the schools to get beyond themselves and work together for good in our communities.”